The Best and Worst Ways to Find Jobs

You may be surprised to learn that some of the most popular job-search methods are unsuccessful for most of the people who use them. Ideally, you want to use a variety of methods to contact employers. Among the most popular resources and methods are contacting employers directly, finding announcements in classified ads, networking, Internet job search, and employment services. The first two methods are discussed in the following sections. The latter three will be discussed in Chapters 3, 10, and 11, respectively.

Contacting Employers Directly

The most effective way to get a job is to contact employers directly, regardless of whether you know of an opening. Step number one is to make up a checklist for categorizing the types of firms for which you'd like to work. You might categorize them by product line, size, customer type (like industrial or consumer), growth prospects, or geographical location. Your list of criteria might be short. If so, good! The shorter it is, the easier it'll be to locate the company that's right for you.

To get just a bit of information about companies before you contact them (you don't need more than that yet) use directories like Dun & Bradstreet's Million Dollar Directory and Standard & Poor's investment guides. They list basic information about companies, including the name of the president and a brief description of the company's products and/or services. These directories, as well as many state manufacturer listings, can be found in your local library.

Aren't the largest, most successful companies the best places to look for a job? Don't they offer the most security? Contrary to what many believe, this is not always the case. In recent years, some of the largest and most successful companies in America have been dramatically downsizing their work forces. These companies are not necessarily secure places to work. Furthermore, these giants are the very companies that are deluged with resumes and job applications. For example, some of the largest banking corporations receive as many as three thousand resumes every day!

A better plan is to contact the many moderate-size companies that are not necessarily as well known. These companies are a much better source of jobs: They're large enough to have a number of job openings at any given time but small enough that they're often overlooked by other job seekers.

Next, try to decide at which of these firms you're most likely to find a job. Try matching your skills with those that a specific job demands. Consider where your skills might be in demand, the degree of competition for employment, and the employment outlook at each firm.

Now you'll want to assemble your list of potential employers. Build up your list to at least one hundred prospects. Then separate your prospect list into three groups. The first tier of around twenty-five firms will be your primary target group; the second tier of another twenty-five firms will be your secondary group; and the remaining names you can keep in reserve.

After you form your prospect list, begin working on your resume. Once your resume is done, start researching your first batch of twenty-five prospective employers. Can you see yourself on the job? Would you be happy working at each of the firms you're researching? You also need to find out enough about each company to sound like you've done your homework. Far too few job seekers — especially recent college graduates — take the time to find out details about the companies to which they apply. Find out what products the company makes, with whom they compete, what their annual revenues are, and any other meaningful information. Use this information during phone conversations and in correspondence with recruiters at the company.

But don't go all out on your research yet! You won't get interviews at every company you contact, so save your big research effort for when you start to arrange interviews. Use one resource at a time and find out what you can about each of the twenty-five firms in the batch, keeping a folder on each firm. If you know anyone at a company on your list, add to your research by contacting that person. See if you can arrange an informational interview.

If you find out something that might disqualify a company from staying on your list — for example, they're about to close their only local office, they've just begun a hiring freeze, or they're being investigated for wrongdoing — cross that firm off your prospect list.

The first step in contacting a company directly is to send out your resume with a personalized cover letter. The letter should be addressed to a specific person; avoid mass mailings of identical letters that say “To whom it may concern” or “To Human Resources.”

After sending your letter and allowing sufficient time for the person to receive it, call. The idea is to call that person one or two days after your resume arrives, so they are likely to remember you.

Can you call the company to see if there are any job openings before you send your resume? If you're unusually confident and articulate on the phone, you may have success with this approach. Such calls are especially effective if you're contacting smaller companies, since you're more likely to reach a key decision-maker directly rather than being blocked by a secretary. However, at larger companies, you'll find that simply sending a resume and cover letter is much more effective. Many companies have recorded job information lines to announce their job openings.

After you've sent your resume and cover letter, always follow up with a phone call. What you say on the phone is important, but so is how you say it. You need to speak with an air of confidence. Even though a company may not have a particular job opening, you need not be apologetic for calling. All companies hire at some point, and each has, at least in theory, a responsibility to be courteous when an outsider makes a call inquiring about potential job openings.

Will all your calls be answered courteously? No. Some will be answered brusquely — often you'll be calling someone who is busy. But you must project confidence on the phone.

When you make a follow-up phone call after sending a resume, you'll customarily find yourself speaking with someone from the human resources department. This is common, and often unavoidable. If at all possible, however, try to speak directly with the hiring manager. If you responded to an ad for a job opening and addressed your resume to a particular contact person, you should try to speak with that person. Remember, the human resources department weeds out applicants, but the specific hiring manager is the one doing the hiring!

It's important to be succinct on the phone. One good way to do this is by writing out a short script for yourself. Be sure not to sound as if you're reading this script, but do become familiar with it, so you won't forget what you want to say even if you are nervous.

You need to make three points:

  • The reason you are calling

  • The kind of position in which you are interested

  • Why you would be a strong candidate

You should do this briefly — in twenty seconds or less. At the same time, be sure to speak clearly and slowly enough to be understood.

Classified Ads

Are newspaper ads a good source of opportunities for those entering the job market? Unfortunately, they are not always. Department of Labor statistics show that most people do not get their jobs through newspaper ads. One of the reasons newspapers are not a good source for job opportunities is that once a company advertises a job opening in a newspaper, it is deluged with hundreds of applications. This is often quite disruptive; a company will typically try anything and everything to fill a job opening before resorting to listing it in the classified section. This means that few job openings are listed in the newspaper relative to the number of jobs available at any given time.

There's more bad news. By the time a job is listed in the classified ads, there's a good chance the position has already been filled or is close to being filled. Even if the position is still available by the time the company receives your resume, the competition will be so fierce that your chances of getting an interview are small.

For all these reasons, relying solely on newspaper ads is usually a tough way to get a job. This is not to say that you should ignore promising opportunities you see advertised, but you certainly shouldn't make scanning the want ads your only research activity.

Think of your job search as a military campaign. You have to follow every avenue you can to win, but some avenues are likely to be more productive than others. It's hard to say which approach is going to pan out, so you shouldn't rule out any possibilities. At the same time, you can't afford to spend too much time in any one area that's less likely to be productive.

Instead of responding only to current newspaper ads, try responding to the old ones, too. If you respond to a newspaper ad that's many months old, it's possible the person who was hired to fill the position didn't work out. In a situation like this, there won't be hundreds of other people responding to that ad when you call. Also, a company that had a job opening seven months ago is likely to have a different position opening up now that hasn't been advertised yet. Old help-wanted ads can help you to find companies you'd like to work for, and you can send a resume and cover letter inquiring about possible openings. You should not, of course, mention that you are applying for the specific position listed in the newspaper months earlier.

There is often a fairly long interval between the time a manager first starts thinking about filling a position and the time an opening is publicized. You may find old newspapers almost as useful as newer newspapers for unearthing potential job opportunities.

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